Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Johns Memorial remembers 1963 effort to desegregate Farmville churches

On July 28, Johns Memorial, Farmville, was one of four churches that took part in the 50th anniversary commemoration of the “Kneel-In” that took place in Farmville

On Sunday, July 28, 1963, just one month before the March on Washington and Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech, over two dozen local students were arrested for attempting to desegregate downtown Farmville churches. That day, a mass meeting of nearly five hundred people was held at First Baptist Church. After the meeting, various small groups fanned out to integrate several downtown churches. A group of seven to eight were admitted inside Johns Memorial, sitting with Dr. C.G. Gordon Moss (consequently, Moss was stripped of his church officership). Another group was denied entrance to Farmville United Methodist. After being denied entrance to Farmville Baptist, the group proceeded to pray and sing hymns on the church steps and was ultimately arrested for “disturbing the public worship of God.”

Fifty years to the date, these churches -- now integrated -- came together to honor these unsung local Civil Rights heroes. Approximately 150 people took part in a walking tour between four nearby churches — First Baptist, Farmville Baptist, Farmville United Methodist and Johns Memorial. The four-church program and walking tour retraced the steps of the 1963 student activists, beginning inside First Baptist Church. Reflections, prayers and remarks were offered at each site.

A statement from the Vestry was read at Johns Memorial : “We, the members of Johns Memorial Episcopal Church, confess with profound regret and Christian sorrow that our church participated in the complex webs of racism that gripped this community fifty years ago and since … Insofar as our brothers and sisters, especially our African American brothers and sisters, were harmed educationally, socially, and spiritually we wish to say that we are sorry and ask pardon, although we recognize that no pardon is deserved.” Click here to read the entire statement.

“The 50th anniversary program not only commemorates the event,” said Dr. Michael Utzinger, “but acknowledges the positive potential that persons of faith can have to promote racial reconciliation in our community.” Utzinger is a member of Johns Memorial and Hampden-Sydney College religion professor.